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Engineer Job Description Breakdown

Published by JD Review on

The start of a software engineer / lead job description serves an important purpose: It orients the candidate around what exactly the company does, what the position is, and how the position fits into the company. If executed well, it makes the position sound compelling and hooks the candidate enough to keep them reading the wall of bullet points to follow. If executed poorly, it turns candidates away.

So let's take a detailed look at the first few paragraphs of a particular job description for an Engineering Team Lead at an unspecified company. Here's how it starts (after the obligatory inclusion statement):

Born at Y Combinator in Silicon Valley and now based in REDACTED, REDACTED helps amazing companies like REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED deliver incredible customer experiences with our intelligent suite of experimentation, engagement, and analytics solutions. Our platform runs on over a billion devices around the world and processes over a trillion monthly events. Big numbers, but we’re just getting started – growing our company from here is a complex and compelling challenge for the right person.

Okay, so we have some key points from this:

  • This is a Y Combinator company in REDACTED.
  • It has customers, some of which you may even have heard of.
  • It delivers "incredible customer experiences" via some sort of suite of solutions. The word "analytics" is used, which really can mean anything.
  • The platform runs on unspecified types of devices around the world. Not sure how a platform does that, but "platform" can also mean just about anything.
  • Big numbers. Big data.
  • Growth, growth, growth. Grow with us!

What's missing? Anything remotely specific about what the company does. We don't know what the incredible customer solutions do, or why they're incredible. We don't know what devices the platform runs on, or really why it's a platform. We don't know what problems the platform solves for customers, or why they're willing to pay to have them solved. We certainly don't know how the position fits into all this, or why a candidate should be excited to apply for it. We know it has something to do with engagement and experimentation and analytics, but that's it!

At this point I'd give about 50/50 odds that a candidate reading this JD would continue past the first paragraph. But I want to see where this is going. So, plowing on:

Our vision is a world where companies can deliver engaging and highly personalized experiences to all of their users, no matter which device they’re using. Experiences that feel like magic, make their users smile, and turn them into lifelong customers.

Ooh, a vision. The bane of specificity. Reading between the lines, "no matter which device they're using" is code for: Our software runs on laptops, tablets, and mobile. Probably? Who knows. And "personalized experiences" is often code for creepy tracking software that tries to sell you things it thinks your precise demographic probably wants to buy. But it's not clear if that's what's meant here.

Two paragraphs deep, and we still don't know what this company does or how the open position helps execute on that.

And the exciting part? The world is ready. Customers are demanding these experiences and companies are rapidly investing in the technology to make it happen.

Customers are demanding the engagement/experimentation/analytics platform that may or may not run on their mobile devices. Get excited, folks.

But, we need your help. REDACTED is growing fast in REDACTED and we are searching for the talent to make our dream a reality. REDACTED has a bright future. Come grow your career with us.

Our future is bright. Our vision is bright. Our job description, well, could stand to have some light shed on it. Come join us anyway!

The rest of the job description (not included here) is actually pretty good! It outlines the team size, team composition, role on the team, and job responsibilities with a good amount of specificity. It even covers the tech stack!

Which is all a pity, because almost nobody's going to read that far. They're going to get lost in the muck of a vague overview and move on to the next company. So much for user engagement, huh? And if anyone does manage to make it through the whole JD, they're not going to have much context. The job responsibilities are untethered from any real grounding: The product and company that the responsibilities are in support of.

Okay, big shot, let's see you do better

Sure thing. Since I still don't know what the company does, I'm going to have to make it up for purposes of illustration. So here's a rewrite — what this JD could look like:

You know when you get an email that says: "Hey Brian, we miss you. Here's a coupon for 20% off to show you we mean it! Please come back and complete your purchase. Pretty please." That's REDACTED. Or how about an SMS that says: "Hey Brian, thanks for signing up. Here's a link to download our sweet mobile app!" Also REDACTED. Or what about a notification that says: "Your computer have (4) Virus. Click here for quick remove virus now." Definitely not REDACTED. And you should probably update your virus scanner.

Our customers (REDACTED, REDACTED, and more) use REDACTED software to design tailored marketing campaigns incorporating actual user data like: first_name="Brian", last_name="'); DROP TABLE orders;--," interests=["coupons", "security", "anti-virus software"]. This increases sales, user engagement, and the number of tweets about a brand lacking profanity. Companies recognize they have to invest here to stay competitive. If they don't, then the REDACTED sandwich shop down the street will eat their lunch.

To keep up with our meteoric growth, we're hiring on the team that makes our campaign interaction tracking software. That means you'll be responsible for storing billions of marketing events every month and making sure they flow into our separate reporting software. Example interaction events: "Sure, redeem that 20% coupon.", or "I'm not interested in installing your dumb app right now.", or "Quick remove virus."

So come join REDACTED in REDACTED. Who knows, maybe some of our Y Combinator faerie dust will rub off on you while you're here.

Is this version of the JD needlessly flippant? Probably. Is it way more specific, have more of an authentic voice, and do a better job of targetting the type of candidate the JD is hoping to appeal to? I would argue so. Now, the candidate is primed to get into the actual job responsibilities and tech stack, armed with a decent understanding of how they fit into the big picture.

You deserve better job descriptions

Job Description Review is here to help!

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